Why union has to act against overload;Letter

29th May 1998 at 01:00
It is high time Anita Higham (TES, May 15) took her own "Head out of the sand". She agrees there is the problem of trying to fit a quart into a pint pot but she studiously refuses to confront it.

She totally misinterprets the National Association of Schoolmasters' Union of Women Teachers action, which is not to drive teachers back into their lonely classrooms. It is designed to stop teachers being driven to a lonely insanity and early retirement.

People often have the ability to see their own faults in others. If only meetings did genuinely contribute to teachers' professionalism and effectiveness I am sure that thousands upon thousands of them would not be so avidly supporting the NASUWT action as they are.

The Coopers amp; Lybrand study made some rather revealing and critical comments about school management and the number and purpose of meetings. The number seemed "excessive".

Coopers amp; Lybrand called for a better balance between policy development and time to focus on teaching responsibilities. Many plans were considered to be "excessively long and over-ambitious".

Coopers amp; Lybrand spoke about the need to improve working methods and administrative procedures in schools and observed: "In a number of our fieldwork schools staff felt disempowered from suggesting these improvements yet clearly had ideas of merit."

Coopers amp; Lybrand's criticisms of school management find an uncanny echo in Anita Higham's script. She seems to equate professionalism with constant meetings.

I reject the notion that professionalism requires teachers to be in constant meetings examining their education navels, going round and round in ever-decreasing circles, "rediscovering" obvious truths - most of which should have been made evident to teachers in their initial training. I find Anita Higham's statement that "teachers can only flourish and benefit professionally by acquiring the capacity for understanding what they are doing through the process of actually undertaking their professional work" to be either drivel or redundant.

Anita Higham is badly informed if she believes that morning staff briefings have been banned by the NASUWT action. Quite the contrary. Members have been advised to continue attending those in order to assist in the reduction of bureaucracy.

It is all very well telling teachers that they should sort out incompetent heads through use of their own "personal authority" but I do not criticise people for failing to be heroic. With job insecurity endemic, with redundancies a constant threat, with management bullying not uncommon, it is quite unrealistic to expect sometimes quite young teachers to solve these problems without the support of their unions. In any event, I have not noticed many headteachers displaying the kind of heroism demanded by Anita Higham when it comes to confronting those in authority, such as OFSTED inspectors.

As for the action denying teachers' professionalism, I am reminded of the headteacher, who being briefed by the NASUWT representative outlining the ban on administrativeclerical duties identified by Coopers amp; Lybrand, reacted rather angrily and said: "I don't see any reason why I should waste my secretary's time asking her to carry out those duties."

Whatever Anita Higham might think, there are thousands of headteachers around the country who have been only too happy and willing to support the NASUWT action.

Nigel de Gruchy

General secretary, NASUWT, 5 King Street, London WC2

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